by Jule Selbo

Every writer knows this: if you have dedicated yourself to getting out a book once a year (or nine months or six months or at whatever pace works for you), you commit to BIC/FOK time. Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys.

For me, this is a body/sense memory element and super-ingrained in my everyday life. Friends and family know that my ‘grouch’, and ‘unsatisfied with all things living’ mood emerges if I don’t start my early morning hours in BIC/FOK.

And I try to stay in the same routine even when I have to/get to travel.

A lot European hotels make keeping to a BIC/FOK schedule easy because a free breakfast often comes with the room and is provided on the premises. Even before the buffet is revealed, some kind soul at reception will point you to a coffee urn and there will be a table where you can open the computer and take care of BIC/FOK.

I was invited to visit Stockholm, Sweden last month to give a speech at a film conference. The Film Institute put me up in a hotel room that had a bed, but no chair, no desk, no place to unpack and no place to put my small travel suitcase. Basically, the routine was this: flip the suitcase onto the bed, unzip, grab the pjs and toothbrush, put the suitcase back by the entry door (and hope there’s not a fire and that the case will block you from getting through the door), dress for bed in the tiny bathroom and then leap onto the mattress because the sides of the bed meet the walls. Very very small.

However, the lobby was great, it was lined with bookshelves, a jazz quartet played every night. But it was the morning I was interested in and it didn’t disappoint. The various nooks set up for morning breakfasters were comfortable; the tables didn’t wobble, and mellow music was on low volume. Coffee was plentiful.

By the time other hotel guests wandered down – I was well into my BIC/FOK headspace (working on 8 DAYS, the next in the Dee Rommel Mystery series) and the happy breakfast chatter was not distracting as they (and me) enjoyed the Nordic buffet that included smoked salmon, smoked moose, toast, eggs, yogurt and cereals, bear jerky, breads and muesli.

            After the three-day conference was over, my husband joined me, and we moved to a hotel where two people could exist in one (still small) room. There was a tiny closet for our winter coats, and it also had a few shelves, so we could unpack a bit. But still – no desk or chair and sitting in bed and typing has never worked well for me in BIC/FOK time. I stayed to my early morning routine while Mark slept his jet-lagged sleep. (But of course, his alarm was set to get up before ten, he was not going to miss the breakfast buffet.) This hotel’s spread topped the first one – it was nearly a Babette’s Feast. Everything was displayed in silver bowls or on white china. A tureen of beautiful, hardboiled eggs with a de rigueur fish paste (in tiny tubes) caught my attention.

The tubes held an anchovy-roe tasty concoction that was to be squeezed out like toothpaste onto the peeled egg – an excellent salty, fishy addition. There were croissants, coriander buns (fabulous Swedish specialty – see pix I put in below), rye breads and salty/seedy crackers and all sorts of nutty, grainy granolas, heaps of whipped cream cheese and butter, prosciutto, sliced beef, bacon and sausages. And all the fresh fruit anyone could want.

I’d drunk a thermos of coffee, polished up some pages and started a new chapter by the time my husband showed up to partake in the delicacies. Then it was off to the amazing VASA Museum to look at a fantastically huge warship built in 1628. The Vasa is a sailing vessel designed/commissioned by King Gustav II Aldof – it spent 400 years on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, within spitting distance of Stockholm. The King had ordered the shipbuilders to erect “the tallest warship ever”, ignoring their worries that the width and height were not properly proportioned for sailing. (It was 172 feet tall – a bit taller than France’s Arc de Triomphe (160 feet) and a bit shorter than the Eiffel Tower (185 feet tall), 226 feet long and – wait for it – yes –  only 38 feet wide). He also insisted more and more artillery be added, ignoring observations that the ship’s weight was not properly calibrated for optimal movement in the water.

The King was not in attendance on August 10, 1628, when Vasa, with its crew of 450 men and women, was put to sea – it traveled only 1400 years before it tipped to its side, took in water, and sunk. Thirty people (or more, records were not great then) perished (some of their bodies are preserved under glass in the museum). The King kept mum, except to blame the shipbuilders and captain.

The Vasa was finally raised (a terrific feat) from the sea floor in 1961, urged back into port (only 1400 yards) and a museum was built around it. The workmanship, the sculptural details, the preservation (due to brackish waters in the port) are stunning.

I’ve included photos of its original painted essence and the beauty of the vessel, unpainted, as it’s seen in the museum today.

Imagine following that Vasa tour – four hours of awe – with a visit to the ABBA Museum. Yes, the four members of ABBA were all Swedes. And despite the cheesiness of the museum (it would be great for a teen sleepover party, karaoke opportunities galore), I ended up impressed by the musical chops of the group (they ended up doing opera, composing Broadway shows and more).

I usually get in 2-3 hour stint of BIC/FOK right before dinner. But I only tried to accomplish  that out on two of our five days as tourists in Stockholm – decided that getting to know this place would have its own reward – hopefully – one day.

We made one more hotel move in Stockholm. This one was situated right on the water, closer to Sodermalm (there is an umlat in there over the ‘o’), close to the Nobel Museum and the old Royal Palace. The hotel was built in 1911 for visiting diplomats – so it’s got some fraying age on it – but the rooms are large. Ours had a wonderful desk overlooking the harbor and a couch and visiting chairs far enough away from the bed so that you almost felt you were in a separate room. It was 5th floor, with a tiny carriage elevator (think of the one Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn shared in the movie Charade), so walking up the curving staircase past stained glass windows felt faster and more convenient than the lift…

I could’ve set up my computer on this desk in my large, diplomat-worthy room in the early morning. But I figured the breakfast buffet was bound to be spectacular and it was.

My morning table overlooked the port, candles at each place were glowing (the sun didn’t come up until almost 8 am), the servers were in white tuxedo jackets, heavy silverware was at the ready and crystal glasses were used for orange juice. Mountains of pastries, oatmeal and omelets to order, hollandaise served in gravy boats, brie and blue, cream and goat cheeses, crackers covered with parmesan, sliced hams, beef, salamis, dried and fresh fruit…

I nibbled a bit, but I almost hate to admit I ended up ordering oatmeal the three mornings we were here – it appealed my first diplomat day, and it was so perfect – I decided to stick to it. And I, actually, got more BIC/FOK done, staving off the distraction of hopping up every fifteen minutes or so to try some new Swedish farm-to-table taste.

            We’ve been spending the last two and a half decades in NYC for Thanksgiving, to see off-Broadway theater that we love and to meet up with our daughter and extended family for a potluck Thanksgiving fest.

I love NY. But – of course – there’s no more morning breakfast buffet coddling. The lobby of our hotel in Chelsea was full of odd bamboo swings stuffed with feathered/fluffy pillows – no place to sit and work on the computer. I always choose to stay in Chelsea (using Marriott Reward points) because of the 24-hour Malibu Diner on 23rd and 7th.  Sure, while walking there, I dodge the garbage bags that always line NYC streets (I didn’t know if the squeaky/sounds were from foraging rats or birds waking up (but how many birds are left in the city?) but I look forward to my time at Malibu diner.

The kitchen and serving staff are always as happy as if they were on the California beach, there’s actually a warmth here, a lack of NY coolness. I get there pre-6am for BIC/FOK and many of the morning regulars are already there or just coming off work – from the topless bars, fire stations, late-night-coders, early risers from the Home for the Blind down the street (it’s the only diner in NYC with a Braille menu).

One day, this trip, I even got to breakfast with some straggling wedding parties coming off all-night binges. The wi-fi works, the coffee flows and a NY bagel and some BIC/FOK is a thing of beauty.

            I had spent some time (pre-trip) worrying that I wouldn’t find time move my story forward on this trip. But I managed it. And it was fine.


About jselbo

Jule Selbo's latest book, 10 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery, the first in a mystery/crime series, received a starred review on Kirkus and just landed on Kirkus Top Five List of Crime/Mystery books from independent publishers. It's also a finalist in the best of Foreword Review and Maine Literary Award. She absconded from Hollywood (and her work there as a produced screenwriter)to Portland Maine to write novels. Other books include Find Me in Florence, Dreams of Discovery -The John Cabot Story and Breaking Barriers - Based on the Life of Laura Bassi. She's just completed the next book in the Dee Rommel series: 9 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery; release date was September 2022. She's currently working on 8 DAYS...
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  1. What is BIC/FOK? I’ve never heard of it. I haven’t traveled extensively for 20+ years.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Very clever to use boc/for, Jule. Of course I had to read on…

    What a great adventure.


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